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How Do You Spell Ms.

October 1975 men’s issue, featuring Robert Redford’s back.  

Edgar: She was not very easy to get along with. She didn’t like anyone who disagreed with her or anyone she perceived to be standing in her way.

Steinem: So Betty and I started going around, looking for [potential funders], and after a few weeks, I realized that everybody we were seeing were people I knew. She wasn’t bringing any names to the table.

Carbine: The prevailing thinking is there is no way this can go forward if Betty is part of it. So we said to Betty, “Given the positive results of the preview issue, there is clearly a magazine to be done. If you think you can do it, it’s yours.” We meant it. I think she spent a busy weekend with some of her friends mulling it over. She didn’t take the magazine.

Feigen: It was extremely important to Gloria and Pat that they resolve that internal dispute and not take the whole magazine down with it.

Carbine: We gave her all the income earned from that first issue [$36,000]: all the advertising and newsstand sales. It was a way to let her know that feminists don’t try to destroy each other.

Steinem: Pat did it to be generous. I did it out of fear. What Betty maintained then and later to others was that she had somehow invented the magazine and Pat and I—and sometimes also Clay—had stolen it. Her mantra to me was “I can destroy you.” If she didn’t get enough credit or media attention, she would yell and throw things; I’d never experienced anyone like that before, and I kept trying to appease her. After we gave her all the money, she still sued us for fraud. [In 1975, Betty Harris sued Steinem and Carbine for $1.7 million, but the case was dismissed.]

Peacock: By the second issue, we had a stylish art director who’d come over from Harper’s Bazaar [Bea Feitler], and writers were dying to write for Ms. It was whizzing from then on.

Cathie Black (advertising director, 1972–77): I remember having lunch with Clay and saying, “I’m going to go to Ms.” He said, “I think this is going to be a big professional mistake.” And I told him, “I think it will be the best move I ever made.” I thought, I want to get on this boat. I don’t want to be left behind.

Edgar: A lot of people got hired just because they walked in the door.

Mary Thom (co-editor, 1972–91): It was like a political camp. It really was. People wandered in and took jobs.

Levine: I came in, and Gloria gave me the only chair, and she sat on the floor and offered to get me a cup of coffee. She didn’t know what to ask me because she didn’t know how to run a magazine.

Harriet Lyons (co-editor, 1972–80): I walked into Ms. early in March of ’72. The only phone that worked was adjacent to where the editorial meeting was taking place, so I was able to eavesdrop.

Levine: Somebody answering phones could come into the editorial meeting and say, “Wait a second, that’s not the way it is!”

Lyons: I recall hearing that the cover was set for the first issue after the preview: “Wonder Woman for President.” They were looking for a well-known woman with a feminist component [for the cover of the subsequent issue]. I just peeked out of my corner and spontaneously said, “The tenth anniversary of Monroe’s death is coming up.” And it seemed to strike a chord. That was my very first day. After the meeting was over, Gloria approached me and said, “What are you doing with the rest of your life?” And I joked, “Make me an offer.”

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Steinem (in her 1983 book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions): “Trying to start a magazine controlled editorially and financially by its female staff in a world accustomed to the authority of men and investors should be the subject of a musical comedy.”

Peacock: Gloria and Pat would go out and do the dog-and-pony show to get ads to support us.

Steinem: That was the worst. We were met with pure, unadulterated hostility.

Black: We were dropped off the high dive into the pool.

Peacock: Gloria, Pat, and their team would go to Detroit, and the car companies would say, “Oh, now, women don’t buy cars,” and the Ms. team would pull out their research and say, “Yes, actually they do,” but the car executives would still dodge and weave and ultimately turn them down.

Black: I had an ad-agency guy grab our research report out of my hands, throw it on the floor, and make a gesture as though he were going to spit on it.